Kankakee River Rats

Zach Mullady hands an artificial fish habitat structure to James Merritt last Friday at the Bird Park Quarry in Kankakee. The Kankakee River Rats Fishing group installed the habitats to help increase the quarry’s fish population.

KANKAKEE — Mick Mullady was 3 years old when he reeled in his first fish, a black crappie, at the Bird Park Quarry.

The quarry’s docks and accessibility made it a common place for Mullady to fish as a kid. Over the years, however, the Kankakee native hasn’t caught many bluegill or crappie from the quarry.

“I don’t know how long it’s been since I heard someone caught a crappie there,” said Mullady, now a 20-year-old criminal justice student at the University of Alabama. “I don’t know if the population is there.”

Mullady surveyed the quarry while working for the park district during spring break. From the docks, he saw groups of largemouth bass huddling around a downed tree and some small metal objects close to shore.

The quarry, which runs as deep as 50 feet, contains an old school bus and a vehicle, according to several fishermen. Other than that, it is all solid rock with limited underwater foliage. Those conditions leave prey fish more prone to predators and population decline.

So, Mullady researched several ways to increase the quarry’s fish population and improve the fishing experience.

“Everyone who participates in fishing has a duty to leave it better than they found it,” Mullady said. “We have to leave those resources in shape for coming generations. The quarry is such a popular place. It’s a good place for kids and the elderly to fish. So, we need to take care of it.”

Mullady then reached out to members of the Kankakee River Rats Fishing, a Facebook group of 5,800 local fishermen that he is a part of, about his efforts. They were on board.

They made several pitches to the Kankakee Valley Park District board, which decided to let the fishermen install artificial habitats in the quarry.

“I love the way Mick and the River Rats work with us,” said Dayna Heitz, the KPVD’s executive director. “They are very respectful. They are always thinking about us. They are very protective of the environment.”

The Kankakee River Rats raised about $600 through personal donations and constructed 18 artificial structures out of PVC piping. Last week, a handful of members sunk the structures into the quarry.

“You can’t just catch and release,” said Dennis Wyllie, an administrator for the River Rats Facebook page. “People think that is the main way of conservation. You have to give back to that fishery or ecosystem to make it prosper. You have to leave it better than when you showed up.”

The artificial habitats will help protect smaller fish from predators and serve as spawning beds. Mullady hopes that will revitalize the fishing experience at the quarry.

“I hope we can keep making it better,” he said. “It’s important for the community and the outdoors.”

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